Beachcombers beware, pretty mementos picked up on the beach may not make it home
It is prohibited to remove anything (rocks, wood, plants, animals etc.) from inside national parks or wildlife refuges and there is a Costa Rican law requiring a permit for collecting sea shells on other public beaches.
There are also laws prohibiting real estate developers from hauling truckloads of rocks, sand and gravel from Costa Rica’s beaches and rivers leaving them susceptible to erosion. Of course logging without a permit is also illegal and most travelers don’t bring their chainsaws anyway.
However, travelers have reported rocks, pebbles, driftwood and even beach glass (which is – when you think about it – actual garbage) being confiscated from carry on luggage by Costa Rican airport security.
Shells, seeds, sticks, butterflies, feathers, pods etc. that someone else collected and added string to make a necklace or glued to a bowl as a decoration etc. are sold in souvenir shops around the country and in the airport. These are theoretically legal.
If you’re in doubt it’s probably best to leave it. The U.S. and other countries you’re headed home to have extremely strict laws about importing bits of endangered species. I’ve seen Morpho wings, sloth claws, Macaw and Quetzal feathers on the ground while hiking and even found an entire intact sea turtle skeleton once but left them behind to deteriorate naturally.
Tips to Get Your Souvenirs Home
Please leave the seashells at the beach.
However if you have some beach glass or other garbage you’d like to keep as a souvenir we recommend putting it in your checked bags.
It’s not clear why some items are being confiscated. Every confiscation reported has been from from carry on and every checked treasure has made it through.